Why you should care
Because golf could use a younger fan base.
What happens when you go to a driving range and an esports tournament breaks out?
For starters, Topgolf isn’t exactly the average driving range. Instead of paying for a medium-sized bucket of balls and strolling by yourself to an open slot of turf to practice the most frustrating repetitive act in sport, the company jazzes up the experience. At Topgolf, you’ve got everything from a neon-adorned entrance and an indoor bar and grill to leather couches and heated driving suites that overlook a gamified fairway. Ben Hogan would not approve.
Now, thanks to a new partnership with Super League Gaming (SLG), the company will play host to a community of esports enthusiasts as well. At first blush, it’s an odd-sounding marriage. But the move makes sense for Topgolf as it aims to connect with a younger customer base. The same can be said for SLG — one of many tournament organizers aiming to convert online users into meaningful customers by connecting with them in person.
They’re also bridging the gap between esports and one of the most rigid traditionalist sports — not to mention the one with the oldest average television viewer.
“You always want to stay ahead of the curve in the gaming world,” says Drew “Hashtag” Crowder, a grassroots marketing and events manager who specializes in esports. “You have to keep the community’s attention, so creating physical experiences and hosting great events is incredibly valuable.”
Founded in 2000 in the United Kingdom, Topgolf now operates 52 venues across the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Rather than aiming at unmarked targets as a way to improve precision, founders Steve and Dave Jolliffe used ball-tracking technology and a target-laden fairway to gamify the driving range, measuring and scoring shots. But in recent years, as the gamification craze has spread like fake plane ride videos, the company’s mission expanded from being merely a high-tech driving range to an entertainment destination — now with gaming lounges for esports. At their three New Jersey locations, you can now place sports bets too.
The self-advertised “world’s premier platform” for amateur gamers to experience their sport like the pros, SLG operates gaming clubs in cities throughout the U.S., with larger scale meetups and tournaments both local and national. Through partnerships with the publishers of major titles like League of Legends and Clash Royale, SLG is an event management company for amateur gamers and ultimately a grassroots launching point for some future professionals. At the very least, it’s a place for gamers of all ages and skill levels to build in-person relationships with their peers. And that touch point is an increasingly valuable asset in the world of esports.
A flood of traditional sports investors has brought along new ideas into esports of how to meaningfully connect with an entirely digital fan base. As such, it’s no surprise that gaming “arenas” are the hot new trend in esports, with companies like Allied Esports building arenas in Las Vegas, California and overseas. With experts predicting a billion-dollar market by 2020, why not embrace the space like any other major sport? Topgolf and SLG seem to agree.
Last December, Topgolf announced plans, with the help of television manufacturer TCL, to build full esports lounges at locations in Austin, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Scottsdale and Las Vegas. Now SLG will organize amateur and professional esports tournaments at these venues while also making their proprietary tournament platform available for third-party hosts. The program will press start this spring with a series of Clash Royale events at the Las Vegas flagship location.
In announcing the deal, Topgolf Media President YuChiang Cheng said he appreciated how SLG built strong in-person communities, and the two companies would create “a unique space for gamers.”
They’re also bridging the gap between esports and one of the most rigid traditionalist sports — not to mention the one with the oldest average television viewer of any major sport. Younger golf fans have always loved the PGA Tour video games by EA Sports, for instance, but they’ve only just begun to embrace fantasy and daily fantasy sports in a meaningful way. If this partnership proves successful, could a pro golf esports league — in the same vein as the fast-growing NBA 2K League — be in order?
Bet on it.
Read more: The LeBron James of esports has his stage at last.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the company with which Topgolf is partnering for its esports lounges. It’s TV manufacturer TCL, not the network TLC.